Americans have always been worried about their weight and physical appearance. Women began to want to be “skinny” ever since Twiggy began to dominate the modeling industry, and sexy curves took its appeal with Marilyn Monroe. Men began to start working out and obtaining muscle mass with the appearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But, the importance of being within healthy ranges has only become a rising trend.
This new spike in maintaining healthy weights began in 2001 when Surgeon General David Satcher announced that American obesity was becoming an epidemic and that the USA was the worlds most obese nation. The Surgeon General and his team defined America’s obesity by the Body Mass Index (BMI) system that measures the amount of fat, the flabby tissue that gives a person their out of shape appearance, a person has in comparison to their height and weight; “BMI is calculated as weight in pounds divided by the square of the height in inches, multiplied by 703. Alternatively, BMI can be calculated as weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters (The Lancet).” A BMI over 25 is considered to be overweight, signaling that a person has more fat than he or she is supposed to have. When the Surgeon General made his announcement in 2001, Americans were considered to be overweight with a cumulative BMI of approximately 41.5.
But, the BMI system has various limitations that were not taken into account during the Surgeon General’s announcement. Research has proven that although the BMI measurements claim to measure body fat, it does not do so as directly as people think. For example, the system can overestimate the amount of fat in a person(s) who is muscular and underestimate the amount of a person(s) who have lost muscle mass, such as the elderly.
In adolescents, obesity is defined as age and gender specific or, as anyone ranking above the 95th percentile range in the CDC BMI-for-age-growth charts. These charts easily assess a child’s BMI by comparing their height and weight growth yearly. A child’s percentile ranking is relative to the ranking of other growing adolescents in the same age and gender grouping. These charts not only help assess growing children who are overweight, but also underweight. Each child is supposed to be measured with the charts by their doctors during their yearly physical.
Since the Surgeon General Announced that America was the world’s most obese nation, there has been an abrupt change in the American culture to fix that. Not only has the government gotten involved in helping maintain and lower obesity levels in Americans, but there has been a growth in the amount of private intervention being put out by privately owned companies and non-profit organizations. Although the common thought would be that Americans want to be skinny (since being thin is the clear opposite of being obese) the most commonly used point during the fight against obesity has been to do it in a healthy manor.
One of the most important factors in fighting obesity is government intervention, or actions taken by the government in order to affect the decisions made by individuals on either economic or social matters. Due to the fact that people highly value their privacy and ability to make their own decisions, government intervention into the personal lives of the public is constantly being called into question: how far can the government go?
The government has already intervened into the every day lives of Americans; they have done this so much and so well that people hardly notice it anymore. For example the federal government constantly intervenes in the lives of Americans by installing traffic lights, setting curfew laws, and creating school curriculums. But, when the Surgeon General made his announcement about obesity, the general public rejected the early attempts to regulate the nations obesity levels. Weight, is a personal issue and for a while, a great deal of people felt that it was too personal for government intervention. However, the public has overtime become accustomed and more aware of the obesity epidemic, primarily to both government and private intervention.
A major issue with the government trying to reduce the and maintain the current levels of obesity in America is the fact that their intervention would have to surpass the economic states of some areas of the countries. People residing in lower income areas tend to maintain higher obesity levels due to the simple fact that eating healthy is expensive. In most low income places, a 12 pack of Cosmic Brownies is equivalent to the price of about two packages of grapes. So, naturally, to save money, people tend to eat more fattening foods. In places such as this, there is also less money being given to school districts where there are less healthy alternatives for students to eat during lunch and snack time. The government, along with many private companies and non-profit organizations have been pushing for more natural grown foods in schools, such as fruits and vegetables, and healthier options to be provided for students, pretzels as opposed to cookies. Many companies have been donating money to get healthier options for students to eat and providing money for these options to become more accessible and affordable.
Leading Medical Journal, The Lancet, states the government should be responsible for making healthy foods cheeper and affordable stating that they should be easily accessible at both private and public schools along with public universities. So, a possibility to increase health the over all health in the general public would be to produce cheeper produce and for the government to fund more home-grown produce, such as establishing new farms and giving money to already existing ones. If fresh produce is more affordable, there is a possibility that they will become more desirable and regularly consumed. An issue with this would be that this idea would be opposing foreign trade and would be slightly more costly.
One of the toughest forms of intervention is trying to influence the private sphere of people. The private sphere is a space known only to the person who possesses it; it contains their thoughts, desires and knowledge. Republicans feel that there should be little to no government involvement into this realm while Democrats feel that there should be a great deal of intervention. But with an issue such as obesity, something needs to be done.
Bureaucrats cannot sit down with every family during every meal to make sure good eating habits are being enforced and proper exercise routines are being followed. One possible way of doing this, according Kersh and Monroe, is to create an even stronger sense of social disapproval. The idea is to alter the current social atmosphere and have fast food chains, and other fattening foods, be thought of as highly unacceptable and even detrimental to the overall health of a person. Supersize Me, a documentary study about McDonald’s and other fast corporations, has already given out a simple form of social disapproval: fast food makes you fat. Since the documentary was released, there has been a dramatic chance in the way the fast food industry was run. They are now required to provide a list of how many calories are in each of their options; many companies are now offering low calorie meals; and there is no longer the “supersize” option at most fast food establishments. There needs to be a greater emphasis on eating healthy as opposed to the alternative.
But, according to Kersh and Monroe, furthering social disapprovals should conducted similarly to the way the government and other organizations made drugs and alcohol appear socially unacceptable: through the flow of information. So, they suggest that another positive form of influence to public behavior can be achieved through medical-science which means allowing people to know facts about being overweight and what it means to be physically fit. According to the two, the facts do not have to be entirely accurate; the idea is to convey the true message that being overweight is not good and will soon be socially unacceptable. Also, people should be able to get help outside of the gym, according to the authors, who want there to be group meetings similar to meetings set up for drug addicts. The demon user/ industry effect is to influence Americans to feel like people who eat poorly and industries that promote poor health habits are “demons,” or inherently bad. Surprisingly, it is easier than it seems to put a demonic spin on negative foods.
In 2009, leading expert in childhood obesity Robert Lusting’s lecture, “Sugar: the Bitter Truth,” got over 800 thousand views on YouTube with a viewer growth rate rate of approximately 50 thousand views a month. The hour and a half long speech persuasively lists sugar as a toxin and a poison and often refers to it as evil. Toxic sugar is not only the common white household substance, scientifically known as sucrose, but also high-fructose corn syrup, which Lusting calls the “most demonizing addictive known to man (Taubes, Gary).” Not only does sugar provide consumers with empty calories, calories that provide no nutritional value, but can cause numerous health issues such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes. However, this is not to say that people should not be eating positive sugars: the sugars that come from fruits, vegetables and whole grains that provide antioxidants, energy and often enzymes that encourage a natural boost in metabolism, leading to weight loss. Foods that contain toxic sugars, such as anything processed, from a fast food restaurant, and many desserts should be avoided.
Since Americans have acknowledged their growing obesity problem, there has been a rapid increase in the over all health of the American Public and a decline in the nations average BMI. According to a study conducted by one of the top medical journals, The Lancet, as a follow up to the study produced by the Surgeon General in 2001, when modern international BMIs are compared, America is not even in the top 10. America has lost its perviously held number one spot to the small nation of Nauru. Over the last decade or so, the push for government intervention and personal motivation to get fit, and healthy has paid off. While American men are rated 10th on the international BMI scale, American women are ranked 36th with a BMI of 28.7. This is proof that, obesity can be sustained and maintained at its current levels and even prevented for the future.
The truth is, it is very hard to influence the public and personal sphere of America. But, if it is reached, it is possible that obesity can be maintained at its current levels and even possibly decreased and one day stopped.
“About Body Mass Index for Children and Teens.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Sept. 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2012. <http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/childrens_bmi/about_childrens_bmi.html>.
“Changing the Future of Obesity: Science, Policy, and Action.” : The Lancet. Web. 07 Mar. 2012. <http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)60815-5/fulltext>.
“Health Affairs.” The Politics Of Obesity: Seven Steps To Government Action. Web. 07 Mar. 2012. <http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/21/6/142.full>.
“Scarsdale Diet â The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet.” Scarsdale Diet. Web. 07 Mar. 2012. <http://www.scarsdalediet.com/>.
Taubes, Gary. “Is Sugar Toxic?” NY Times Online. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sugar-t.html?pagewanted=all>.
“The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity.” Surgeon General. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/obesity/calltoaction/1_1.html>
“US Loses Its Fat Supremacy.” LiveScience.com. Web. 07 Mar. 2012. <http://www.livescience.com/11825-global-obesitiy-united-states-ranking.html>.
“US Loses Its Fat Supremacy.” LiveScience.com. Web. 07 Mar. 2012. <http://www.livescience.com/11825-global-obesitiy-united-states-ranking.html